My player power rankings in four major categories
Flyers rookie Sergei Bobrovsky is a Calder candidate and a top five goalie
A solid Norris challenger and MVP contender: Atlanta's Dustin Byfuglien
The emergence of Avalanche blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk was a surprise
Each week, power rankings come out in various formats all over North America. Some use stats, some are geared towards fantasy leagues and others are based on, well, whatever. SI.com's Brian Cazeneuve offers up one of the best and most comprehensive week-to-week accountings of how teams are faring, but I thought it might be fun to look at individual player rankings based on performance so far.
1. Tim Thomas
2. Ondrej Pavelec
3. Carey Price
4. Jonathan Quick
5. Sergei Bobrovsky
It has been a pretty easy group to rate at the top from the outset. Tim Thomas (15-4-3, 1.70 GAA, .948 save pct.) has returned to his Vezina Trophy-winning form for the Boston Bruins. Carey Price's start to the season (league-leading 18 wins; 2.13 GAA, .929 save pct.) has been monumental in Montreal, especially given the questions raised after Jaroslav Halak was traded to St. Louis. Ondrej Pavelec (12-6-3, 1.82 GAA, .943 save pct.) fainted in the season opener and woke up healthy and happy, and he's looking like the second coming of Turk Broda for the Atlanta Thrashers. And the L.A. Kings' Jonathan Quick (15-7-1, 2.02 GAA, .927 save pct.) got in shape this summer and, as a result, his game is in better condition as well.
Flyers rookie Sergei Bobrovsky (15-5-3, 2.44 GAA, .919 save pct.) came out of nowhere to provide quality netminding that has the Flyers challenging for the distinction of best team in the NHL. And that has Bobrovsky securely among the top five rookie performers thus far. Depending on your rooting inclination, he is in a fight for the Calder Trophy with San Jose Sharks' centerman Logan Couture.
1. Logan Couture
2. Sergei Bobrovsky
3. Taylor Hall
4. Jeff Skinner
5. Kevin Shattenkirk
As obscure as Bobrovsky was heading into the season, Couture was as known an entity as you can be as a freshman, having played the maximum number of games for the Sharks last season without losing his rookie status. He also preformed well in the playoffs, and that made him a leading candidate for top rookie honor heading out of training camp.
Other top frosh include Taylor Hall in Edmonton -- the number one overall pick this past summer by the Oilers in the entry draft -- along with winger Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk of the Colorado Avalanche. Hall got off to a slow start, but is building momentum (10 goals, 19 points) to match his hype coming out of the draft. The 'Canes selected Skinner with the seventh pick overall and he showed his desire to make the jump to the NHL beginning with the July prospect camp. He hasn't let up (24 points in his first 32 games), giving the Hurricanes an infusion of effective energy and enthusiasm.
Shattenkirk, on the other hand, went to the AHL and scored exactly zero points in 10 games. He got the call from the Avalanche due to injuries on the big club and proceeded to accumulate points in nine straight games. He gives the Avs another dimension on the blueline, with his smooth skating and outlet passing, as well as fitting in nicely on the power play.
1. Sidney Crosby
2. Steve Stamkos
3. Dustin Byfuglien
4. Pavel Datsyuk
5. Brad Richards
Obviously, the rookie category is most volatile when it comes to power rankings, as most first year players are prone to more uneven play than established players. That is in contrast to the MVP discussion that usually has proven scorers leading the way. To date, it's hard to say that anyone has performed more valuably than Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh. The Penguins' captain, who has a 21-game scoring streak as of this writing, is playing at yet another elevated level while propelling his team to elite status after an indifferent October.
After Crosby, it again becomes a matter of preference. Steven Stamkos (26 goals including a league-leading 12 on the power play, 47 points, +11) certainly deserves consideration, but more so than linemate Martin St. Louis (13 goals, second in the league with 30 assists, 43 points, +5)? Pavel Datsyuk in Detroit has been his usual all-around brilliant self (12 goals, 39 points, +8), and Brad Richards has quietly put together a start in Dallas (15 goals, 38 points, +8) that has the Stars surprisingly challenging the Red Wings atop the Western Conference. And if you can get past the initial inclination to think that Dustin Byfuglien playing defense for the Thrashers is a gimmick, has anyone meant more to his team than big Buff?
1. Dustin Byfuglien
2. Nicklas Lidstrom
3. John-Michael Liles
4. Kris Letang
5. Ryan Whitney
If you find it difficult to reconcile your preconceived notion of Byfuglien with his output (11 goals, 35 points, +11, 5 game-winners), where do you stand on him as a Norris candidate? He leads in almost all offensive categories, while registering a plus-8 rating. Surprising? Probably. Solid? Absolutely. Then consider some others who are having breakout campaigns on the blueline, like Kris Letang of the Pens (+18, second in the league) and John-Michael Liles of the Avs. An unlikely trio, certainly, but right now all are worthy of top billing. So is the ageless Nick Lidstrom of the Red Wings, who began this campaign as strongly as he ended last season after one of the slowest starts of his career.
After that, subscribing to the idea that no Norris-winner should ever be a minus player (sorry, Rob Blake), there is a host of interesting candidates led by Ryan Whitney of the Oilers who is anchoring an improved blueline and power play. He is playing over 25 minutes a night and aiding the offense even though he has yet to tally himself.
So there you have it: an individual power ranking by category. Feel free to weigh in with your own takes via the mail link at the top.
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